Mission Timeline: Pre-Launch Activities

The pre-launch period covered everything from initial mission design to all stages of building and testing the spacecraft and its launch vehicle prior to liftoff from Earth. It required meticulous attention to detail and years of exertion to get everything right for a successful, on-time launch. While engineers worked on building and testing the spacecraft, scientists at universities and research institutions throughout the United States and Europe planned their instrument observations and decided how to make the best use of the orbiter's powerful capabilities.

In the pre-launch phase, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter went from a collection of individual instruments and parts to an incredibly capable and sophisticated spacecraft, thanks to countless and demanding hours of effort from a workforce of thousands of people. From concept to creation, this martian "eye in the sky" ultimately made its way from the cleanroom where it was built at Lockheed Martin Corp. in Denver, Colorado to its final Earth-bound destination, Cape Canaveral, Florida.
In this image, a Caucasian man wears a white, protective suit in a cleanroom. His face is mostly covered and his hands are gloved. He is working on the CRISM instrument for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. The instrument sits on a slanted aluminum-like board covered with yellow Kapton tape - a low-static tape safe for using in cleanrooms and near or on instrumentation.
An engineer dressed in white cleanroom coveralls (called a "bunny" suit) works on the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

Building and Testing the Spacecraft

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's main "hub" was a cleanroom at Lockheed Martin Corp. in Denver. Various partners built and tested individual instruments at other locations. Teams ensured that they delivered the best possible instrument to be mated with the body of the spacecraft. Eventually, all of the instruments traveled to Denver to be installed. The Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera hitched a ride on its own chartered plane from San Diego to Denver and the Shallow Radar (SHARAD) electronics traveled all the way from Italy!

A very vital stage in the spacecraft's life was the assembly, test and launch operations phase. Following individual testing, instruments were shipped to Denver and mated with the orbiter bus. As the spacecraft began to look more and more like the complex orbiter it ultimately became, the entire structure was put through rigorous environmental, electronics, software and systems testing.

A group of eight engineers and technicians dressed in white and blue cleanroom coveralls and bonnets (called 'bunny suits') stand and watch as the large, boxy bus of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is lifted by a large, white mechanism. The bus is covered in protective, gold thermal blanketing.
A group of engineers and technicians watch as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is lifted in a cleanroom at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado during the orbiter's assembly, test and launch operations phase.

Transporting the Spacecraft to Cape Canaveral

After months of building and testing the spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was disassembled for transport to Florida. The ride was no ordinary journey. An unexpected snowstorm delayed the huge military C-17 cargo plane that carried the orbiter from Buckley Air Force Base to the Kennedy Space Center.
In this image, more than a dozen people stand, in winter coats, behind a huge, gray military C-17 cargo plane. From this vantage point, the plane resembles a huge shark with its mouth wide open. Inside the 'mouth' is one of the large boxes that contain the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The wings of the plane jut out from both sides. The sky is cloud-covered.
The boxed-up Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is loaded into a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane during an unexpected spring snowstorm in Colorado.

Assembling and Testing at Kennedy Space Center

Although arrival in Florida was a significant milestone for the mission, there was still considerable work to be done to prepare the spacecraft for launch. A team of engineers and technicians spent countless hours in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility cleanroom reassembling the spacecraft and conducting even more tests. Meanwhile, launch services personnel at Kennedy Space Center ensured that the Atlas V rocket chosen to launch the orbiter was ready for takeoff.

Technicians and engineers dressed from head to toe in blue coveralls (called 'bunny suits') prepare the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's large, black high-gain antenna (that resembles a satellite dish) to be mated with the body of the spacecraft. The bus of the spacecraft with nearly all of its instruments in place, sits just to the left of the people pictured. Parts of the orbiter are covered in gold, shiny thermal blanketing. Facing directly upward is the spacecraft's huge Hi-RISE camera covered in black protective blanketing.
In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, workers from Lockheed Martin prepare the high-gain antenna for installation on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), in the background.

Conducting a Dress Rehearsal for Launch

As with all missions, a series of rehearsals and reviews took place in the final weeks and days before launch to ensure that all systems were functioning properly and that all team members were prepared. And, of course, the team began to feel the excitement of sending the orbiter they designed and built to the red planet!

A series of videos titled "The Challenges of Getting to Mars" covers these activities in greater detail.

In this image, six individuals sit at consoles in front of computers during a launch rehearsal for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. Launch vehicle manager Arden Acord (a gray-haired, Caucasian middle-aged man with a goatee) points to data on project manager Jim Graf's computer. Graf is a brown-haired Caucasian man in his fifties. Flight system manager Howard Eisen sits to Graf's left. He is a Caucasian man with brown hair and a goatee. Next to Eisen are two Lockheed Martin employees, one of whom is Tammy Harrington, the mission integration manager. She is a blond woman in her forties.
Members of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project and launch teams conduct a launch rehearsal in the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.